DONETSK, Ukraine — Sasha Prokopchuk doesn’t like being a TV personality.
The minister says he gets a bit embarrassed when people in this eastern Ukrainian city recognize him as “that preacher on TV” who walks around town in a turtleneck, talking about the problems that vex Ukrainians and offering free Bible lessons.
Standing in the TV ministry’s “response center” — a converted apartment in a crumbling, Soviet-era building — Prokopchuk takes a letter from the top of a stack and reads it. A viewer wants to receive a magazine produced by the ministry and is interested in what the Bible says about love and marriage. Similar requests come, via letters and e-mail, from across the country — and from other former Soviet nations, including Russia.
For Prokopchuk, who has preached on the airwaves of Ukraine for more than a decade, those requests make the notoriety worthwhile.
“I don’t feel like I’m a TV guy — never,” he says. “God created this.”
Prokopchuk grew up in the Soviet Union as an atheist. He and his wife, Victoria, were newlyweds when his government called him to serve in the Red Army. He later worked in a Soviet hospital but earned little money. He tried coal mining and truck driving to support his family. When the Soviet Union collapsed, they lost what little money they had.
Frustrated and depressed, Prokopchuck read to take his mind off his problems. One night, unable to find a newspaper, he picked up a “black book with a cross” that his wife had bought from a beggar woman in a train station. He flipped through the pages and found a passage in which the author lamented that all of his life’s pursuits — from drinking wine to amassing riches — had proved meaningless. “I realized, ‘This book is about me,’” he said.
He kept reading the Bible, and found encouragement in Jesus’ teachings about prayer and repentance. His relationship with his family improved — including his mother-in-law, who was housing them at the time.
After two years of studying on his own, Prokopchuk and his wife met Denny Kruse, a U.S. missionary in Donetsk. Kruse baptized Prokopchuk on May 2, 1995, and encouraged him to preach.
Prokopchuk served as minister and elder for the Petrovsky Church of Christ in Donetsk, which grew to nearly 400 members, he said. In 2004 he helped plant the Transfiguration Church of Christ, where he now ministers, in the city’s downtown.
He launched the TV program in hopes of reaching more lost souls. The episodes are filled with the life lessons he learned from studying the Bible. In 2001, Kruse helped secure funds to broadcast the show nationally.
“People like the episodes about human emotions,” Prokopchuk said. “We go through conflicts and worry … the Kingdom of God, peaceful life.” A key focus is making God’s word understandable, he added.
Eastern European Mission, a church-supported ministry, provides Bibles and gospel literature for the show’s viewers. Richard Baggett, the ministry’s vice president of advancement, said he is inspired by Prokopchuk’s desire to reach the people of Eastern Europe.
“It’s the closest thing to what I read in the book of Acts,” Baggett said, referring to the stories of early Christians reaching lost souls in their homelands. “It’s what all of us who have been involved in mission work want to see.”